Pokémon Go: The Dangerous Encounter
Imagine a man in his fifties. Now give him make-up like the Queen of Hearts, pale white skin, and a bright red slap of lipstick. He’s wearing a red Victorian looking dress while carrying a red clutch and red umbrella, the whole deal. I was with a friend of mine in San Francisco over the summer, walking along Pier 39 playing Pokémon Go, and I looked up from my phone and noticed this odd red fellow sticking out like a sore thumb. He walked right in front of me, and as I took a step out of his way, he leaned in and whispered in my ear “That game is gonna ruin your life”. My head jolted around, eyes following him as he and his red dress disappeared into the crowd behind us. “A little extreme no?” I thought, as I quickly caught up to my friend to tell him what had just happened. We had just spent the day sight-seeing, using it as an opportunity to catch different types of Pokémon at different landmarks. But before I get any further, I feel like I have to share a few things first.
16 years ago, my brother Nigel convinced our parents to purchase our first Game Boy. It was a Game Boy Color, and with it came Pokémon Yellow. I was only 5 at the time, but before long I was able to recall the names of each and every Pokemon. Me, a wee little fetus finding his next obsession. My brother and I were so fond of this game that we drove our parents nuts. My mom enforced rules restricting the amount of time we could play each day, but Nigel and I quickly found a way around this by creating a system where I would hide the Game Boy under the towel rack in the bathroom. We would take turns pooping and playing until all the blood circulation was lost in our legs. It’s possible that I developed many hemorrhoids around this time.
Bringing the story back to this year, in July, Pokemon Go was released to the world. Despite my Pokepast, these days I'm much more of a casual gamer. In case you couldn't understand why this game was such a hit, I’m going to try to explain. So just how did Pokemon Go ruin my life? Well I'm sorry for click-baiting you, but my experience is actually the complete opposite.
For those of you who never had interest or time to understand the game, let me try to give the most basic explanation. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game which uses Google Maps data to replicate the real world within the game. The steps we take during a walk in real life are also taken by our avatar inside the game. Different Pokemon will appear on your map depending where you are, and you must move to them physically to catch them. This is an interesting factor where players are actually encouraged to go out and explore their neighborhoods. Players can then join teams and battle each other with the Pokemon they have caught and trained.
Now, back to San Francisco. I had arrived in San Francisco only a few weeks after the game had been released, so the Pokemon craze was still on the rise. Before that, I only had experience playing in Hawaii, so I was excited to see what new Pokemon I would find in a new environment. For some reason, I didn't think Pokemon Go was going to as popular in the Mainland as compared to a small Hawaiian Island, but boy was I wrong. San Francisco area, especially the Pier, was poppin with players on every corner. Just the day after I had arrived, a Facebook event for a “Poke Crawl” was scheduled to take place. The RSVP list was over 8,000, not including all the “maybes” and people who would already be out regardless. It topped lists as one of the biggest social events to ever take place in the Bay Area. A poke crawl is a play on the word “pub crawl”. The event had been mapped to include the best route between pubs where people could also find the best Pokemon. Although, I doubt having a few drinks really helped anyone catch anything. My brother, close friend, and I spent the night witnessing the event unfold, taking candid photos along the way. Sadly my 21st birthday wasn’t until the following week, so as an underage youngster I had no choice but to Pokemon Go home and save the beers for another night.
A smart move by the creators, which I’d like to point out, was that the game was released with hardly any explanation/walkthrough. By not telling people how to play, players were forced to consult friends and strangers, sharing techniques and locations to find good Pokémon. People who suffered from social anxiety were placed into an environment where they had common interests with those around them, allowing them to interact confidently. It’s really a beautiful thing that I can say I’ve seen first hand. As the old theme song would say, “you teach me and I’ll teach you” is a perfect description of the community that was created.
Later in the week, my brother and I wanted to take over a gym across the street from his apartment. As we approached the digital landmark, we noticed someone else had beat us to it. Knowing the stranger must have had the same intentions, I asked him “what team are you on?” He replied that he was on “Valor/red” which was also the team my brother and I chose. Knowing we weren't going to have to destroy each other made things a lot easier. We talked about where we were from and gave each other different tips about Pokemon Go. After about 20 minutes of battling together and sharing stories, the three of us had finally taken over the gym. Our new friend pulled out a brown paper bag and, while reaching in, said he had something special for us. I prepared myself to say something along the lines of, “Oh sorry, I don't smoke,” but to my surprise, he instead pulled out two pieces of paper and handed them over. They were two stickers of our team emblem. “What a kind gesture,” I thought, as my brother and I made our way back into the apartment. It really felt as though we had found a mutual respect for one another as people and not just as players. It’s sad to admit, but based off of appearance alone, and without Pokemon Go, I would not have chanced a conversation with this gentleman.
Looking back at it now, I would say that it wasn't just the gameplay that was so appealing about Pokemon Go; it was the community that came with it. I once read a Facebook post asking players to use their Poke Lures close to hospitals, so that sick children would have a chance to catch Pokemon. I once read a flyer asking Pokemon Go players to stop by their local dog shelter and offer to walk some of the dogs while on their Pokemon journey. Struggling local businesses were booming because of Poke Stops that were placed close to them attracting players on a regular basis. People were straight up exploring their cities, learning about their communities, finding new favorite places that may have just been down the block their entire lives. I started to see families, the parents too, walking around as a group interacting with each other with the help of their Pokemon. And after all of this, all of these positive outcomes, I just couldn't help but think,
When I think about what that man in the red dress had said to me, I see an old man with a closed mind, only seeing what he wanted to see. “Just another kid glued to his phone,” he must have thought, unable to grasp the world of opportunities which arises from technology. In an age where “glued to your phone” is often portrayed as a negative action, Pokemon Go becomes the fire to fight that fire. Yes, its an app on the phone, but it instigates face to face conversation, relationship building and other kinds of human interaction. I bonded with my brother, who I hadn't spent any real one on one quality time with since we were kids. I was reunited with an old best friend, another important person who I had long been out of touch. I had wild adventures in a city which was completely new to me. And best of all, I was reconnected with the me of the past. The little Kai whose Poke-knowledge paid off in the end. The world moves so fast we sometimes forget the simple things that made us happy.
Does that make us childish or just plain human?